Sam Presti is all too familiar with the joke. The one in which the Thunder general manager joined Minnesota counterpart Kevin McHale as the league-wide punch line in last season’s sarcastic debate over which of the two should win executive of the year for their roles in rebuilding the Boston Celtics. Presti traded Ray Allen from Seattle to Boston. McHale shipped Kevin Garnett from the Wolves to the Celtics. The Celtics won the title. The Sonics and Wolves won the league’s second- and third-worst records, respectively. One year later, both teams are trying to climb their way back to respectability, starting with tonight’s preseason matchup in Billings, Mont. "When you look at a lot of teams in the league it doesn’t take as long as it might seem to turn it around,” said Nick Collison. "With a good young group, and I think Sam has done a really good job of making decisions that are going to set us up for the future, hopefully sooner rather than later we can have some success and start to build the tradition.” Presti and McHale have taken a similar approach, using trades to acquire both young players for the future and veterans who can help win now. Both execs are also relying on high draft picks to speed their turnarounds. Presti selected guard Russell Westbrook with the fourth overall pick in June. McHale chose his UCLA teammate, forward Kevin Love, with the fifth selection. "I don’t necessarily think there’s a road map,” Presti said. "Every team at some point has to transition their ballclub. I think this year will tell us a lot. This year is important for us in terms of understanding where we are and learning about our team.” Earl Watson said the Thunder’s rebuilding phase is over. "Last year you could say we were definitely rebuilding, losing Ray Allen and losing Rashard Lewis, with a new coaching staff and new management,” Watson said. "Last year was the season for us to get experience and the season for guys to grow as players. Right now, I think the moves they made shows we’re not rebuilding anymore.” Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo agreed, saying the Thunder is now building. "Right now we’re identifying pieces we feel good about being able to win going forward and continuing to improve,” Carlesimo said. Presti now offers only a slight grin at the mention of last year’s joke. "You can’t let things like that bother you,” Presti said. "I didn’t have a lot of time for it last year, quite frankly.”
Thunder at TimberwolvesTime: 8 p.m. today Arena: MetraPark Arena, Billings, Mont. TV: KSBI-52. Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM.